American hearing professional voice their opinions

Survey

The 2018 Hearing Professional Dispensing Survey results have been published, providing a good insight into the business practices and thoughts of the participating audiologists. One surprise result was the change, from last year’s survey, in attitudes to the potential effect of Over-the-Counter (OTC) products.

More than 300 hearing care professionals responded to the online survey issued by Hearing Health & Technology Matters, an online resource for the hearing profession and consumers. The questions, issued in May 2018, covered many different areas of dispensing hearing aids, marketing and OTC hearing products. In 2017, more than half of hearing care professionals thought that OTC products would have a negative effect on their clinics and practices. One year later this number has dropped to one-quarter. Asked if they would be willing to sell OTC hearing products in their practices, nearly 50% said they would once the devices became widely available.

The survey demographics show that almost 80% of survey respondents were female. 40% have been dispensing hearing instruments for more than 20 years; the second largest group of respondents have been practising less than 5 years. 38% work in a private, independently owned clinic, 25% are either owners or part-owners and nearly 70% are employees. More than half are not affiliated with a business management company or participate in a buying group.

Several questions in the survey ask about referrals, marketing and brands. Doctors or medical referrals were the top referral source at nearly 50%, word of mouth was the second highest source of sales. 60% of the hearing care professionals acknowledged how important investing in digital marketing is for their businesses.

Dispensing patterns

When it comes to hearing aid brands, 40% of professionals choose from five or more hearing aid manufacturer ranges when selecting the right hearing instruments for their customers. 5% say they offer only one hearing instrument brand. The 300 respondents were asked which hearing aid brand they dispensed the most at their practice. They were also asked to provide brief explanations why they preferred that brand over others. (Fig.1)

The survey analysed dispensing patterns, bundling and pricing sectors. The average number of hearing aids dispensed per month was 21. The lowest 10% were only selling 2-6 instruments per month, compared to the top 10% who dispense between 40 and 60 hearing aids per month. More than 60% offer a single price with the hearing aids and services bundled together. 8% unbundle and just under 20% offer a partially unbundled price package. Some of those questioned appear to be moving away from bundled pricing, one dispenser commented, “Moving to itemise this year”, another said, “We unbundle services after the patient has had the hearing aids for more than one year”. Some offer both options, “We typically use a bundled model but have an unbundled one available,” and another dispenser said, “We offer hybrid plans for those who want an initial lower cost.” Some have tried to change their price offering but it hasn’t worked out for them: “We experimented with offering both the bundled and completely unbundled model, however the unbundled experiment failed miserably. We are now back offering a very comprehensive bundled model.”

When it comes to pricing there are huge variations in what practices charge. Many practices offer finance options such as CareCredit (31%), lower cost amplifier options (22%), work with charitable organisations (21%) and Medicaid (17%) to improve affordability and accessibility to hearing aids. More than half of those surveyed said they believed hearing are not affordable and accessible for most Americans.

34% say they fit most of their patients with mid-level hearing instruments, 24% typically fit primarily premium-level and 8% concentrate on entry-level. 25% said they dispense an even mix of technology levels, whilst 9% weren’t sure on their split.

Over-the-counter change of mind?

The 300 hearing care professionals were asked about their feelings about OTC hearing aids. 40% believe they will have no effect on their clinic and 18% think they will help them. 25% state OTC will hurt their clinic and there were some indifferent on the subject. These figures have changed quite a lot in the last 12 months. In the 2017 survey, 52% thought OTC would hurt their clinics, less than 10% thought they would help them and 26% thought there would be no effect. 46% are considering selling OTC hearing aids; 32% are unsure. Only 20% say they do not support the idea of OTC products. Opinions are slowly changing.

The complete survey can be found here.

V.A.